November 13th, 2010
10:47 PM ET

Pastor says student's suicide was tipping point for his coming out

The founder and pastor of a Georgia megachurch said Saturday that the September suicide of a Rutgers University student was the tipping point for his decision to come out of the closet to his congregation.

"For some reason, his situation was kind of the tipping point with me," said Jim Swilley, who calls himself a bishop. "There comes a point in your life where you say - how much time do we have left in our lives? Are we going to be authentic or not?"

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off a bridge after a secretly-taped sexual encounter between him and another man was posted on the internet.

Swilley, 52, said that he has known he is gay since childhood, but that he never thought he would live openly. He came out recently after more than 20 years of marriage to his former wife, who continues to work at their church.

"At a certain point, you are who you are," said Swilley, who has four children from two marriages.

He ministers at the Church in the Now, an inter-donominational Christian church in Conyers, Georgia, about 25 miles east of Atlanta.

"What I told my church is that I was given two things in my life that I didn't ask for... one is the call of God in my life and the other is my orientation. I didn't ever think that those two things could be compatible," Swilley said.

On the whole, he said his congregation has been supportive of his coming out, though some people have cut ties with him over the decision.

Homosexuality is a hotly contested issue by many faith traditions.

Earlier this month, Gene Robinson - the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church - said that death threats and the continued controversy around his selection contributed to his decision to announce his retirement.

Speaking specifically about evangelicals, Swilley said gay people are sometimes seen as trying to build a movement, or "recruiting" - views he took serious issue with.

"My position is not about gaying up the church," he said. "It's about people being who they are."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Georgia • Homosexuality • United States

soundoff (977 Responses)
  1. dsilviano

    It's an abomination, period. You can't get past the black and white word of God on this subject, and those who try to make us accept it as "normal" should get a Bible, read it, and get on their knees and ask God for forgiveness and repent of their sin. Period.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:04 am |
    • LivinginVA

      Do you say the same thing to people who eat seafood? Work on Sunday? Get divorced? If not, why are YOU the one who gets to pick and choose which parts of the Bible apply?

      November 14, 2010 at 7:08 am |
    • Roger

      Exodus 21:20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

      So what's your point?

      November 14, 2010 at 7:10 am |
  2. Joe

    Live in the Light of the Truth and many who seek to do the same will follow. That is the duty of a Pastor. I applaud this pastor for his courage and for finally coming out and living in the light of the truth. If I lived in Georgia, that would be the church I would attend. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son... Remember that he Loved the World and there isn't a list that follows of exceptions. Those who want to create a list of exceptions may find themselves on the outside looking in.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:02 am |
  3. ContraGay

    There are way too many people accepting of this filthy practice. I for one will not be politically correct. If you're gay, you have your wires crossed. If you're not and you're accepting of it, you have issues too. The "you can't help who you love" theme is ludicrous. This is just one more contributing factor to the spiraling out of control of the world.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:02 am |
    • Joe

      You are such an idiot that I will not even say anymore.

      November 14, 2010 at 7:09 am |
    • welches, oregon

      I bet you have a very small circle of friends

      November 14, 2010 at 7:24 am |
    • definitely seeing a trend here

      When a nekkid man washes the feet of 12 other men clad in nothing but towels.....and loves a woman who oiled his feet with her hair....appears to have a foot fetish at the very least, and is probably gay as well.

      Where are the words that this man actually wrote?

      Maybe he wasn't gay with a foot fetish but the person writing about him WAS!
      That "thorn in the flesh" is a euphemism for a "prlck" is it not?
      Each disciple was supposed to start a separate church – and then Paul came along – not a disciple – and started the CC.
      And that's how you got your Bible. Someone who liked to chew on sandal thongs with a certain relish. Paul.

      November 14, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  4. LivinginVA

    What I find amazing is that he had members of his congregation leave over him being gay (something Jesus never made any comments on) but thought it was OK he had been divorced (something that Jesus specifically addressed). Hypocrisy in action.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:01 am |
  5. Jenn

    God bless you and your family, Pastor Swilley, for your courage. I am sorry we have to live in a world where you had to hide who you were for so long. Christianity (and all faith) should be about loving and accepting and supporting all mankind. This story will help many young people out there. Best of luck to you. Stay strong.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:59 am |
  6. dorian canalizo

    So many Christians are selective with their beliefs: Love only people that are like them, go to church but mistreat animals, etc.
    It is all this religious fanaticism that is destroying our country and dividing its' people. Let people live, love who they want, and be good to eachother.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:55 am |
    • Chris

      Pretty well sums up this entire issue!

      November 14, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  7. Brian

    The devil can quote the scriptures word for word, that dosn't make him right. If you have not repented of your sins and and you don not have Jesus living in you, you can not understand the scriptures. Like it or not you are twisting the word of God to fit your on agenda. You are tring to justify your own sin by calling what is right wrong and what is wrong right.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:54 am |
    • Joe

      To understand the scriptures Brian, you must also understand it's evolution, the various interpretations of the text over the years and YES even the influence of Anglicans (King James Version <–That is why its called a version) and other religious Folks editing, adding and rewriting sections to fit they religious agenda. Study up on the subject and how many variations there are of the original texts before making an uninformed comment.

      November 14, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  8. cat

    My goodness people. He's a child molester. He needs to be in prison. Then he can preach to his fellow inmates and get the pleasure of doing it. If u r so proud of him and still support him....send your son on a trip with this idiot!

    November 14, 2010 at 6:52 am |
  9. Austin B

    This is good to hear....I think it is very brave of him to do this; it makes a good example I think, given the social setting right now...

    November 14, 2010 at 6:44 am |
  10. TruthisRevealed

    As a pastor I will say people are born gay. People are also born murderers, rapists, pedophiles, teachers, doctors, etc. There lies within each of us the ability to be very good, yet at the same time very bad people. Do some have a stronger disposition toward certain wrongdoings than others? Yes. The environment we are born and raised in, the society people are willing to accept, and the nature of sin which has and will have an effect on our physical makeup.
    This still gives no freedom to do wrong/sin according to God. We don't like to hear this because it doesn't mesh with our current ability to "choose" what is right/wrong. I find it sad that a man called by God, creates his own church, builds it into a thriving megachurch "business", doing so while deceiving two women and four children, only to declare that the way he was born has NOW forced him to declare openly who he is? If I was gay, I would have more compassion on those whom I claimed to have loved than to be so selfish to lie a lifetime only to NOW declare a choice when it seems to be SO conveinent? If I was gay, regardless of what society believed, I simply would have kept it a secret if it harmed my career, which now seems obvious what the pastor had rather than a true calling by an unchanging God.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:44 am |
  11. MarkYelka

    Who would Choose to be gay, with all of the difficulties that come with such a "choice?" Being gay is like being left handed. You can't see it by just looking at someone, but it is hard wired in the genes. Now, are you going to slap a lefty's hand with a ruler?

    November 14, 2010 at 6:41 am |
    • Carole Clarke

      My Father was a military man, born in Georgia in 1914, dead since 1981. He was straight but left-handed. Went to a military academy where the priests punished him for being left-handed, made him learn to eat, write, fire a rifle and do everything with his right hand. He was struck every time he used his left hand – they thought it was an evil mark. Poor man, it wasn't that long ago and I can still see the torment on his face when he discussed it. He left that church even tho he remained a spiritual person who was true to the God that made him. Miss you Dad.

      November 14, 2010 at 7:06 am |
  12. Bill

    All those who are gay or aspiring to be gay.... don't, just don't be gay... just come to Christ, He will save you.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:40 am |
    • Chuck

      OMG, you're so right, but he went by Jesus ("Hey-sus"). Hung like a donkey with skin like caramel. He saved me from a long, lonely night. Get a clue. Come out of the closet. Devote your time and energy to something useful, like volunteering at the SPCA or reading a book that will teach you something relevant.

      November 14, 2010 at 6:48 am |
    • outofcontextthumpers

      i can't tell if you're joking. i hope you are.

      November 14, 2010 at 10:47 am |
    • Chuck

      I hope wit makes a comeback.

      November 15, 2010 at 7:01 am |
  13. J R Brown

    Jesus said that many will come to him claiming to have done great things in His name and He will say to them "get lost"...this guy will be one of those.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:38 am |
    • James

      Amen brother! He has been deceitful most of his life both to God and man!

      November 14, 2010 at 7:00 am |
  14. James

    Come on now! He didn't have to come out. Just look at his picture. Even his eyebrows are better lined than my wifes!

    November 14, 2010 at 6:36 am |
  15. J R Brown

    This story merely calls into focus the ridiculous hyposcrisy of those who practice "modern" Christianity...the guy's whole life has been a fraud but now he's asking for people to turn a blind eye and "accept" him for who he is. "Who he is" is liar and a charlatan...and, as a pastor, a false prophet. Sure,, Jesus advocated forgiveness....but Jesus also said, "by their fruits, ye shall know them". Christians are supposed to repudiate those who claim to be followers of Christ and contradict His teachings...not "accept" them. Contermporary Christianity is a spineless, gutless caricature of the "body of believers" Christ meant it to be.

    November 14, 2010 at 6:35 am |
    • Joe

      You comments belies the same problem you profess to despise. You are just as much a hypocrite if not more so. As A Christian, we have no right to judge anyone as the Holy Scriptures do say that when we do, we are judged by that same measure. Christianity is supposed to be the Church and the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ. we are all part of it if we are accepting of him as our savior. There are no caveats. You ever heard of the parable of the day the children wanted to approach the master and they were dirty from playing, but the disciples had stopped them and told them to go home, wash up and change their garments before doing so? The Lord asked them why were they doing that? Let them come unto me JUST THE WAY THEY ARE! Get your faith stiaght with God. No pun intended

      November 14, 2010 at 7:20 am |
  16. ybs

    Why waited this long? "cuz Swilley is a coward/sheep!

    Yup, there is only one Rosa Parks.


    November 14, 2010 at 6:34 am |
    • Trenks


      November 14, 2010 at 6:35 am |
  17. Bill

    TX Guy.... You should feel sorry for yourself until you find the truth.... there is a heaven and a hell.... just look at you... you are in a state of a living hell... and you know it...

    November 14, 2010 at 6:31 am |
  18. marc

    What's the difference if a person is gay or not ... It shouldn't matter what another person is... It is these holy rollers who are trying to push their beliefs on other people that is the problem. I'm catholic and I don't necessarily agree with the church's stance on every issue, but at least the catholic church doesn't go wacky about gays... Why would anybody be botherd by the fact that a person is gay? There are enough problems going on in the world than that stuff..

    November 14, 2010 at 6:30 am |
  19. Alex Lopez

    I have nothing against them fruit cakes!

    November 14, 2010 at 6:28 am |
  20. ybs

    Everyone beats off. So, keep your god to yourself. Otherwise, I'll hump him/her/it! 🙂

    November 14, 2010 at 6:22 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.